Stress Kabob

I’m juggling stress again. It’s like meat skewers or kabobs that I’m juggling. And the juggling is actual items tossed in the air, as well as just plain managing the stress that is tying up the ability I have to manage at all. Stress kabobs!

I went to the Office of Disability Services at the community college to get signed up for extra time on tests and help with notes and absence leniency as needed for hospitalizations or bad days. So talking with that staff member about what accommodations I could get was making school more real to me as well as programming new tasks to do to ask for the accommodations at the beginning of each semester.

I tried to look up classes for the spring to take, and I couldn’t find a way to register. Stress! I tried to log in to my online profile and school email and make some edits. I tried to learn how to use the online system for taking an online class. Which kinda makes sense but I’m sure I won’t remember all the details. Stress!

I’m wondering how many little things I need to remember and how to do things to just take one class at a time. Plus the cognitive challenges from ECT and from bipolar that will make those things hard. Stress! So I’m struggling with (1) changes coming up and (2-3) school adaptations in general and for disability and (4) maybe learning some new things. I’m stressed out by all this and it’s making my anxiety worse and mood stability harder. Juggling is one way to deal with it so it’s a little less overwhelming. Help!

Self Care – Hospital and ECT

I was in the hospital the first three weeks of April after my last post. I took care of myself by going in the hospital to be kept safe from my suicidal impulses and to start ECT again. As a common meme says, “It’s ok to ask for help. It’s ok to start again. It’s ok to say no. It’s ok to rest. It’s ok to let go. It’s ok not to be ok.” Going in the hospital and starting ECT again was telling myself it’s ok not to be ok, and it’s ok to rest and to start over again. Having had success with ECT at the end of 2018, my psychiatrist recommended a course of it again including maintenance to hopefully prevent a mood crash again after only a couple months of stability.

Now I am out of the hospital, adjusting to life without suicidal thoughts, and have had 13 treatments. My mood is holding steady between treatments and suicidal thoughts are drastically reduced. I can’t say I’m feeling as good as I had been after the last course of ECT. But I did just go from ECT 3x/week to ECT 2x/week. I’m staying the course by keeping up treatments even though I don’t really want to do ECT. Something about it just weirds me out. But I really want the experience of feeling good for an extended period of time, and ECT seems to be the main treatment that leads there.

I continue talking with my therapist over the phone on Fridays. And my mom is my companion for ECT, driving into the city and then keeping watch over me as I recover. I’m able to reach out to these thick branches of my support system, as well as some smaller limbs too, as I try to feel not alone. I wish I felt good and strong and happy again, but at this point I at least have hope that it will happen again as ECT continues.

Clearing Out Storage

As many of you know, I moved from Chicago to Dallas a little over a year ago in order to live with family instead of alone. It tore me up inside to leave all the people who cared for me (psychiatrist, therapists, pastor), all the friends who loved me, all the sites and people who were part of my adopted hometown (Chicago was longest I lived in one metro area as an adult), and even my hair stylist. I ended up in a partial day program to help regulate my life and schedule and emotions, which ended up in a horrible hospitalization, as I tried to settle in to my new home.

Now for the last month I’ve been making my room more my own with stuff from my storage unit. I kept everything from a couch and bed to kitchen supplies and decor for a one-bedroom apartment or for sharing a house. For the first six months of being in Dallas, I expected I would move out of the family’s house. For the next 3 months I was focused on another hospitalization and then ECT. For the last 3 months I have been coming to terms with the newly-realized fact that I cannot live alone. I need to live with family, or at least a housemate. (I am lucky with all that is handled for me right now living with family! Things like sharing cleaning and cooking so that I’m doing much, much less than when living alone.)

The next step, after being ok with not ever living alone again, is deciding where I should live. Do I look for a place to live AND a housemate? If so, back in Chicago, out in CA (where I feel at home, having lived my first 30 years there), or even in the Pacific Northwest, so that maybe I’d have a support system or not move again if I’m in a place I want to settle? Or do I stay near family, but in my own place with a housemate? Or stay With family, as I am now? I have defaulted to living With family and trying to notice the plus sides and mitigate the downsides. The worst part is that we have very different values, such that we cannot even mention or talk about religion, politics or other things that are important to us.

So, I’ve kind of decided to live with family and make the best of it. This is really hard, because even if I didn’t live with them, I would want to share my life changes and activities with them. Though I could still move out to a place I’d rather live than <anywhere in Texas>, I am throwing my lot in with family and where they live so that I can have the trade-offs. OMG. What am I thinking? This is a huge decision that I can’t really get my mind around. But I’m acting As If I’ve made the decision, as various therapies tell you to do, to keep from being frozen. I’m moving into the future.

So, the next step is what to do about all my stuff in storage. There are more things I could unpack and take to the house to personalize my living space and update my kitchen supplies. So I’m doing that. And the rest? (1) There is stuff such as keepsakes and pictures (before the digital age, kids) that, of course, I need to store somewhere. My family has turned one room into storage for all of our stuff, so I’m schlepping stuff upstairs every time I go up. (2) There is stuff that I would use for my life in an apartment or house shared with someone else. With a great deal of effort I could unpack, photograph it and put on an app to sell it. OR, I could donate the mostly really nice stuff for the kitchen and the used furniture I got from thrift stores myself (and kept in good condition!). I have decided to donate everything, even the really good kitchen stuff. It’s a way to make room for the future by getting rid of the past, I think.


All of this has been happening in the last couple weeks as the spring equinox and related seasonal changes have been wreaking havoc on my mood. So even if my mood is stabilizing a little bit now, my emotions are All.Over.The.Place. There is specific grief over items I am saying goodbye to. There is general grief about deciding to stay in TX and to live with family. There is fear about an unknown and uncomfortable future that I’m walking into, and that I’m letting other people have some control over. Sadness. Relief. Anxiety. Hopefulness. Resignation.

I think the gamut of feelings cycling through my body, as well as the thoughts about everything in my life circling without stopping on one, is contributing to my suicidality. I almost did something yesterday a couple times, but I moved forward and made a different decision. I’m both happy and mad about not doing anything. Just writing about the feelings is causing pain in my chest, labored breathing, heart palpitations – anxiety. And the desire to die and put an end to all of it becomes strong. It’s as though it is the first coping skill that comes up. It’s not a good coping skill, but it’s the strongest and longest-lasting. I have people to talk to, including my psychiatrist and therapist, and I have all the crisis numbers too.

The Power of Community

Yesterday I posted about how I experience suicidal ideation. I have followers on WordPress, and the blog crossposts on Twitter and Facebook with followers in both places. On all three platforms I got responses concerned about my safety.

Thank you everyone!!

Even though I always have a plan, and the impulses, thoughts and feelings are usually present, yesterday I was not worried about my safety. But I did feel Very Alone. I know people who have suicidal thoughts every once and awhile, and I’ve met people who deal with chronic suicidal thoughts like I do. Heck, psychiatrists have told me about patients like me. But it’s so easy to feel alone when suicidal ideation takes over multiple times an hour!

But yesterday You, Dear Readers, helped me feel seen and heard and not alone. You contacted me, commented, reposted, gave contact info and made sure I had the suicide prevention lifeline number (800-273-TALK). You reminded me that others have this experience and make it to the other side.

I wear a ring that goes around my finger three times. I say it is my “power of community” ring because the three rings remind me of how powerful community has been for keeping me alive and safe. It’s so easy with suicidal ideation to feel lost and alone.

Now, if y’all could point me to people with chronic ideation, that would be great! No one has ideas about how to live with it.

Suicidality

I am not suicidal and I have all the hotlines on speed dial.

But there are guns in the house I live in. They are locked up, and I don’t even know where the safes are. I only have access to a few days’ worth of my meds, and the rest are hidden away until Saturdays when I refill my pill boxes. But other people’s meds are out in the house where I could have access to them. Knives and sharps are not locked up.

All these facts go through my head as I try to convince myself I am in control, and suicide is just a thought.

But it’s not just a thought. It’s also the feeling of wanting death and nothingness and unconsciousness, not just so the pain will stop but also because it seems like the time has come for my life to end. Suicidal feelings are Munch’s “The Scream” – silent, yet horrific, as they tear through the deepest part of you. You are a bottomless pit of dark, dark, dark feelings that spiral down, a corkscrew that drives deeper and deeper into the center of you.

Suicidality includes the impulses to use various items against myself that roll through me like ocean waves, or that jolt me like electricity. The impulses usually include visions of me hurting and killing myself in multiple ways.

I’m ashamed of having these feelings, impulses and thoughts. When I’m not consumed by them. In the moment, they take over and are the only things I experience. Sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, thoughts do not exist, only suicidal thoughts, feelings, and impulses. As these become less intense – and they do! – I begin to feel shame and guilt, as though I want these suicidal experiences.

And then, if I am able to feel something else, I start to feel fear, and anxiety ramps up. So, from being overwhelmed by suicide’s thoughts and feelings, I first feel shame, guilt, fear and anxiety. How awful! And from this head- and feeling-space I then question myself: Who am I, that I seem to be consumed by thoughts of death and of killing myself? Who am I, that I come under suicide’s power and don’t even take in other stimuli? And why do I think/feel constantly that my life will end early, most likely at my own hand too?

Suicidality as I experience it is this horrible, horrible, awful experience that pulses through my every day. Some days the experience is less overwhelming and only lasts a few seconds and then passes. Most days the waves of feelings last for several minutes each hour. How can I keep living this way? Why is there no treatment for suicidality?

The Other Shoe Dropped

I hate to say “I told you so,” but I did tell you that stability wouldn’t last. Over the last week-plus, I slipped into depression, with fatigue, hopelessness, sadness, guilt, tearfulness, and the agony of suicidal impulses and visions. What seems different this time is that I am hopeful that it will pass and that I can find stability again. That hope is a HUGE difference! I still fall into utter hopelessness and think life will always feel as horrible as I feel now (and then I often pass into thinking of death as the only way to end such suffering).

I finally told my mom on Sunday how I was feeling, and she insisted I try to get in to see my psychiatrist on Monday. (I had already been texting with my therapist.) He was actually able to squeeze me in! He started me on a med that I tried last year that ended with a hospitalization. He thinks I was already feeling bad and was getting worse anyway, and that the drug didn’t have anything to do with the hospitalization. So, I’ll try again, under my family’s watchful eye, with my doctor on speed dial. He suggested a sun lamp too, first thing in the morning, as well as calling to get in to get some maintenance ECT. (UGH! ECT is NOT what I want to do, though apparently now it works for me…so I guess I should follow my doctor’s advice.) He thought the schedule of an IOP or PHP program might be helpful, but that I didn’t really need to go over coping skills again.

Both my psychiatrist and my therapist agreed that the time of year – the equinox – has something to do with what’s going on for me. As my doctor put it, “Spring is a fragile time,” and “The last 100 patients have had the same problem as you.” He said both spring and fall are the most fragile times (I’m sensitive to the solstices too – Gr-e-e-a-a-t), because it is the circadian rhythms changing. It’s nice to be believed about the time of the year being hard for me! Not everyone at my hospital in Illinois believed me, though the most important people in my life did. So, if any of you are having trouble at this time of year, rest assured that you are NOT alone!

All of this description and action plan just to tell you, dear reader, that I feel Horrible, from the pit deep in my solar plexus and spirit, and Empty and Ugly and Worthless. Leading to hopelessness and deep sadness. Right now, at least, I don’t feel suicidal. I’d like to think I could avoid a hospitalization this time.

The Value Independence

Happy Pi Day! (March 14, 3/14 for 3.14, the decimal approximation of the mathematical concept of pi)

OK, now that I’ve displayed my nerdiness for the day…

I’ve written before about how I have valued living independently very highly among my values. Learning to live with family has been hard, and deciding several times in the past year to continue to do so has been even harder. I’m still learning to live with family, especially sharing my schedule of outside activities. I want a sense of independence. And being able to follow my own whims and schedule is part of what I value about independence. How much independence do I have to give up by living with family?

I am reading a book about the needs and desires of people as they age, Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. At one point today I read these sentences about the two meanings of autonomy: “One [meaning] is autonomy as free action – living completely independently, free of coercion and limitation,” and “Whatever the limits and travails we face, we want to retain the autonomy – the freedom – to be the authors of our lives.”

I believe I have been thinking about living independently in the first sense of autonomy described in the book. I want to live alone, keeping my own household, because I believe that kind of independence shows that I am adult and have learned to live with my limitations. But, as many people have discovered as they age or as part of disability or even as part of enlightenment, we humans live dependently with one another, sometimes with personal and/or household needs taken up by others, sometimes with emotional cares shared with others, sometimes just sharing the rent with another person for financial needs to be met. Over this past year I have come to realize that I am a better human being? or my best self? when I am living with other people. I think I have always been that way, even though I consider myself an introvert who enjoys time in the company of others A Lot. During this year, I realized that I will never be able to live alone anymore, whether with family or with a housemate.

What does not living alone mean for my value “independence”? I still want to follow my own whims and schedules. I’m having a hard time sharing that info or part of myself with others. I still want autonomy, but perhaps I’m thinking about it now in the second sense above: I want to be the author of my life, even as household, financial and emotional needs are met to some degree by housemates. I’m having an epiphany, or becoming enlightened, about the dependent nature of my very human self, which includes living with bipolar and its needs. I no longer feel the need to live alone to show my adultness or ability to manage my limitations. But I do still feel the need to be the author of my life, to make decisions about how I spend my time to enrichen my life. That is what I value about independence.